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24 September, 2013


   The penultimate episode of Breaking Bad was a trap game. It came off an extremely emotional episode and of course came before the series finale. That's like Michigan playing Alcorn State in between Michigan State and Ohio State.
   It was a perfectly fine episode that had no chance to be on-par with what we saw in Ozymandias.
   Here are some of my thoughts:

  The juxtaposition of Walt with his barrel of money living in complete desolation was jarring and depressing. He had spent years building his "empire" which now was nothing more than a cabin with a wood-burning stove and some Ensure. Oh, and to make matters worse, when he went for a walk he did it in a Low Winter Sun.

   I was a little surprised by Vacuum Repair Guy's ("That Guy" Hall of Famer Robert Forster) response to Walt when Walt asked him if he would get the money to his family once he died. V.R.G. is being paid handsomely by Walt ($10k for an hour of cards!), doesn't seem to be a thief and clearly relies on his reputation but basically told Walt without saying it, "I'm taking all your money and screw your family." Thought he would be more honorable than that.
   I had little to no reaction when Todd killed Andrea. They haven't (thankfully) spent a lot of time on her importance to Jesse and while we certainly felt his pain, it just felt like one more pin in a bed of nails for Jesse.

   Still don't have much of a clue who the ricin is for, but I'm sticking with my thought that Walt will take it so he can go out the way he wants. He knows he's dying, so somehow, someway, he'll do it HIS way. In the very first episode of the series Walt is talking to Skyler about his cancer and says to her "sometimes I feel like I never actually make any of my own... choices. I mean, my entire life it just seems I never... had a real say about any of it." From that point forward every choice Walt makes affects his life and the lives of countless others. It only seems appropriate that the final decision Walt makes about his life is how it ends.

   I loved bringing back Walt's Gray Matter co-founders as the motivation for him to go back to New Mexico. So much of what has burned the fire in the Heizenberg part of Walt was his ego and pride. He always says what he did was for his family, but so many of his actions were triggered by ego. His bitterness toward Gray Matter had a lot to do with his desire to build his meth business into an empire. The bar scene in this episode was a great reminder for us, and Walt, and gave the dying Heizenberg fire one last wisp of wind to keep it burning a little longer.

   I have always felt this show would come down to Walt and Jesse. I think we're going to get there, I'm just not sure how.

   Lastly, here's an office pool opportunity: What will be the last shot of next week's show?

  I think it starts with Walt having his birthday breakfast, heading to New Mexico, saying "Hi Carol" outside his house and then getting down to business. How it all ends? We'll have to wait and see but one thing is for sure, when it comes to Walter White, we're all going to do the one thing he asked of us...

16 September, 2013

Breaking Bad - 2 Shows left

If you aren't caught up on the show, then don't read this.

 It took me the better part of 30 minutes to find the right word to describe how I felt after watching this episode. I settled on despair. It was just a total sense of despair that washed over me. It was the most compelling hour of scripted TV I may have ever seen, and when it was over, I felt awful.

  The opening scene was a great reminder of just how far Walt and Jesse have come, or fallen. Walt was still in true science teacher mode, boring Jesse with the details of the cook. Jesse was in full "can we get this over with, I need to get baked?" mode. Unlike Rick telling Captain Renault in Casablanca, this was not the beginning of a beautiful friendship, it was the beginning of the end.

  I'm a cryer. It doesn't take much to make me tear up when watching TV or movies. When Charlie was hung from a tree on LOST and they made it seem like he died, I totally lost it as Jack was pounding on his chest and Kate stood by crying her eyes out. In the episode of the West Wing when they had the military funeral for the homeless man intertwined with the children singing The Little Drummer Boy, I cried like I was 6 and someone stole my Christmas presents. And yes, I cried when Mickey died in Rocky 3.
   So I went into this episode fully prepared to shed some tears, is was just a question of when. The first opportunity presented itself right away, with Gomie already dead and Hank in it neck deep with Uncle Jack and his crew standing over him. But Hank, a lovable, goofy guy when the show started, lay defiantly in the desert dirt, looking up at Jack with a F-you expression on his face, being more heroic than anyone has been to this point in the show. And then Hank delivered his last and best line of the series, saying to Walt "You're the smartest guy I've ever met and you're too stupid to see he made up his mind 10 minutes ago." The next 30 seconds were amazing. The look on Walt's face, Jack shooting Hank, the cut-away of the cliff with the gunshot echoing off of it and then Walt's slow collapse to the ground, dropping through the sunlit camera angle. Brilliantly done. (As a Rocky fan, I couldn't help but think of the end of the No Easy Way Out montage in Rocky 4 when they show Rocky falling to the mat through the arena spotlight. Throw the damn towel, Walt!)
   Still though, no tears. We knew this was coming. We've had a week to prepare for it. Hank's defiance in the moment bolstered me, and I was just pissed that Walt had let it come to this. Even though he tried to prevent it, this was still on him. As Walt fell to the ground, the full weight of that burden fell on top of him.

   Unlike The Sopranos, The Wire and Boardwalk Empire where we saw the characters we cared about get riddled with bullets, or strangled or stabbed, on Breaking Bad the characters we really care about who got it (Mike, Hank, Gomie, Gus, Gale. ) all got it off-camera, or in Mike's case, in a clumsy way with his actual death coming moments later. Is that an AMC vs HBO thing? Maybe it's just a director's choice and an effective one at that.

   Just when Walt gave us a chance to feel for him again, to look at his good side as he pleaded for Hank's life, moments later he reminds us what an asshole he can be. Walt stands in front of Jesse and tells him "I watched Jane die." That may have been the worst thing we've seen one person do to another on the show.

   Did anyone else notice Walt's original pair of pants on the ground in the desert as he rolled his barrel of bills?

   Not everyone likes Skyler and Marie, but give them this, they delivered two of the better scenes of the season. The first when Marie confronts Skyler about Walt and then tries to take Holly, the second coming last night when they talk at the car wash. Throw in the hotel room "I'm all in" scene from Skyler and she's had an incredible comeback season. Do they have PED testing for TV shows?
   The look on Skyler's face when Marie says "either you tell Flynn or I will" was even more pain-ridden than Walt's when Hank was shot.

   Jesse's condition in his holding cell was representative of how every important character (and the viewers) felt. Just battered and beaten. As awful as Jesse looked, he was in the best shape of anyone.

   Props to Walt Jr. for finally having his big moment. The scene with Skyler and Marie at the car wash was solid, but he upped his game in the knife scene. Speaking of which...

   The family scene at the house was extraordinary. Walt's running on nothing but emotion at this point. He's at the tipping point of the moment he had been working for, taking his money, and his family and starting a new life. And then his family tells him to leave, but not before Skyler goes all Jack Nicholson in The Shining on Walt, and then Jr. is the third man in the ring, throwing himself in front of his mom as Walt screams "We're a family!" Not anymore, Walt. Goosebumps exploded on my body. And just when you wanted to breath, Walt picks up the baby and makes a break for it. As Skyler ran down the street yelling after Walt, I reached down to pick up the pieces of my insides that had been ripped out of me. No tears though. It was more like I was Mike sitting by the river after Walt shot him. Just sitting there... staring... waiting to die.

   But I wouldn't have to wait long to well up. After the break Walt is with Holly, changing her diaper. When he picks her up she looks at Walt with her sad, blue eyes and chubby baby cheeks and says "Momma." Walt knows at that moment he has to give her back. It wasn't full blown tears for me, just some misting up. The pain in his eyes, the eyes of a father who knows what's best for his child is to give it up, got to me.

   The next scene may have been Cranston's greatest moment to date. He calls Skyler knowing full well the cops are listening and belittles her. Walt takes one for the team, making it sound like Skyler knew nothing about anything, but to be convincing he had to rip her apart and he did.
 Tears poured out of him as he summoned Heisenberg one more time. That will be the scene they show when Cranston wins an Emmy this year.

   Tony Soprano launched the "lovable but despicable" leading man genre. Walter White may have taken it to another level. We knew Tony was a member of the mob. We knew that came with a level of sub-human actions. Much of what he did, even things like killing friends and their loved ones, was done in the name of business. When we met Tony he was bad and stayed bad. Walter White broke bad. While most of the last few seasons Walt has been Heisenberg, he has spent the last six episodes in a Dr. Jeckly/Mr. Hyde like mode, bouncing back and forth between the two. To me, he is a more despicable character than Tony Soprano. The guy in the RV at the beginning of the episode (and series) wanted to provide for and protect his family, the guy on the phone at the end of the show was the same man. It's the guy that we saw in between all that, the guy who ruined lives, killed people, watched people die, poisoned a child and let greed blind him from his actual purpose... that's the guy who is going to hell. Much of what Tony Soprano did "had" to be done because that's how his business works. None of what Walt Heisenberg did had to be done until he allowed things to get out of control. His business, his empire business, was his creation.

   The episode was 60 minutes of pain. The number of looks of anguish on people's faces were in the dozens, each one like a dagger to the heart. It's funny that the White Family isn't one most people would rank among their TV favorites. Most people don't care for Skyler, are ambivalent about Jr and his breakfast habits and barely remember that Holly is a part of the show. But as we watch the White family disintegrate before our eyes, it tears our guts out. That's a testament to the actors, Vince Gilligan and his staff. Now just two hours remain. If I think about that for too long, I'll cry for sure.

11 September, 2013

Breaking Bad - 3 shows left

With one of the great shows in TV history winding down, a few thoughts on what went down in last Sunday's episode.

   How would we have viewed the scene in the desert if we hadn't already seen the flash-forwards?
Would you have viewed Walter's surrender differently? For me it reinforced that the gang was coming because once he was in custody I can't see how he escapes from the cops.

   I liked how Walt climbed the same rock that Jesse stood on when they did there first cook. Always enjoy when things come full circle.

   Kudos to Vince Gilligan and his crew for milking the desert scene. I think most people assumed Uncle Jack and his crew were still coming, even though Walter told them not to, but the scene dragged on, in a good way. There were multiple moments when I expected Hank or Gomie to take a bullet in the brain. As he was reading Walter his rights. Right after the tight shot of Hank slapping the cuffs on Walt. Right after Hank got off the phone with Marie and said he'd be home in a little while. The scene was long enough that I kept bracing for that moment, and it never came. It played out beautifully.

   I no longer think those flash-forwards are Walt hunting Jesse, now I think he's hunting Jack and his gang, pissed that they killed Hank and maybe Jesse. Still have no clue who the ricin is for, but maybe he's going to use it himself so he can go out on his own terms.

   Odds on people dying in the next episode:
   Gomez 100%
   Hank     95%
   Jesse      50%

My only nit-pick with the episode was the Storm Trooper-like shooting by Jack and his crew. Hank and Gomie are out in the open, roughly 20 yards away and (at least in the first part of the shootout) they can't hit either guy? Even J.R. Smith on a bad night has a better shooting percentage. It's not like the guys were ducking for cover. Gomez is standing there pumping his shotgun and 5 guys miss him?

  I'm thrilled about the Better Call Saul spinoff. Can they start it in 4 weeks?

04 September, 2013

2013 Denver Broncos predictions

   The Denver Broncos enter the season as the favorite to win the Super Bowl. That seems a little foolish to me. The Broncos are a good team for sure, but are they better than last year's team? Are they better than Seattle, San Fran, Atlanta, New England or even the Ravens? Maybe they are favored because the NFC is a tougher playoff road to travel through. Time will tell, but here's a spoiler alert, the Broncos aren't winning the Super Bowl this year.
   The 2012 team ranked 2nd in total defense. They lost Elvis Dumerville, Von Miller will miss the first 6 games, and in general their linebacking crew has had a large makeover since last season. And where exactly a pass rush is going to come from while waiting for Miller remains to be seen. The Broncos lead the league with 52 sacks last year, 29 1/2 coming from Von-Doom. I always say the greatest invention in history is the electric screwdriver. Why? Because it alleviates time and effort. I could have spent 2 hours trying to put in the screws to the steps for my pool into my pool deck this summer, arms and hands in agony, sweating like Tony Siragusa on the sidelines of a Dolphins game, but with the electric screwdriver I was done in 20 minutes. That's what a good pass rush is. It gets the defense off the field alleviating time and effort. Let's just say without Dumerville and Miller (for 6 games) Denver's defense could be screwed.
   The secondary should be good, but the last time we saw Champ Bailey he was looking like a guy who now needed safety help on his side of the field. Dominique Rodgers Cromartie is a talent, but one who hasn't always lived up to the expectations.
   On offense, Denver lost Willis McGahee, who was a solid runner, averaging 4.4 a carry, but also a veteran back who understood blocking schemes. They now have a Moreno-Ball-Hillman three-headed monster with Moreno being the most adept at protecting Peyton.
   The biggest concern is the offensive line where everyone is either recovering from injury or a career backup.
   The Welker pick up was huge and I loved the signing of Vaszquez. There is no reason to think this won't be a top 5 scoring offense (they were #2 in 2012).  Oh, and there is Trindon Holliday who will probably return 4 or 5 kicks for scores this year.
   If the line holds up there will be just one thing that will stop the offense this year... fumbles. In the preseason the Broncos offense lay the ball on the ground six times in their last three games. They lost 14 fumbles last year, the most of any team to make the playoffs. And we saw last year Holliday has a bad habit of doing it too. You can't ran a fast break offense standing on the sidelines.
   So where does that leave the Broncos this year? As you may recall, last year I was all over the Broncos first 9 games, and then they won a few more than I thought and exceeded my expectations, going 13-3.
The 2013 season is upon us, so let's break it down.

   The Flacco Flack over the banners around Denver and on the stadium has gotten a lot of buzz this week. But hey, NFL, why stop with just a few banners. Why not give the Ravens their rings too?? If we're going to do this, let's go all the way. Have Ray Lewis out there so he can dance up the field before getting his ring. Hell, raise the Super Bowl banner and then ship it back to Baltimore.
Why would Broncos fans mind? You've already decorated our town with Joe Flacco's mug, so let's have a party!
   The Broncos ran 30 plays in the first quarter of their preseason game against the Rams. 30! If my math is correct.... (carry the 1...) that's 120 over 4 quarters. With a lot of new starters on defense,  I'm not sure this is the offense the Ravens want to face (no, not the famed "Peyton Manning face") in week 1.
    If the Ravens win the toss and receive, on the first play Rahim Moore should go stand on the Broncos goal line just to let Baltimore know he won't be beaten deep in this one.
   While all eyes will be on Welker, and Eric Decker being the guy who torched Baltimore in the two games last year (14 - 217, 2 TDs) it's going to be Demaryius Thomas with the big game, grabbing 8 passes for 168 yards and 2 scores.

BRONCOS  27  RAVENS  21 (1-0)

   Manning Bowl 3! On the "Bowl" spectrum it ranks a little higher than the Bud Bowl but not as good as the Puppy Bowl. The Mannings are rappers, SNL hosts, humble family men and prolific passers. This will be their third meeting with Peyton having won the first two. If you count their SNL appearances, Peyton is 3-0.

Week 2, 2006: Colts 26 Giants 21. Peyton 25-41, 276, TD, Int. Eli 20-34, 247, 2 TD, Int.
Week 2, 2010: Colts 38 Giants 14. Peyton 20-26, 255, 3 TD. Eli 13-24, 161, 2 TD, Int.

   I'm a little brother. I grew up losing to my older brother all the time. You really can only take it so long. I think Eli has had enough. Eli is either going to win this game or he is going to throw Peyton's baseball glove in the pond near their house. (Something I may or may not have done to my brother).
Both brothers will play well, but Broncos turnovers will prove costly.

GIANTS 24  BRONCOS 17  (1-1)

   So week 1 is a big revenge game on national TV. Week 2 is the Manning Bowl on national TV (it'll be the big game on CBS around the country). Week 3 is Raider Week on Monday Night Football. Will the Broncos have any emotion left in the tank after these 3 games? The saving grace is after facing Flacco and Eli, Terrelle Pryor comes to town. Dennis Allen is going to stand on the Raiders sideline, look at Pryor and then look at Peyton and think, "I left Kate Upton for Amanda Bynes..."
   This feels like a Trindon Game. He'll return a kick for a score and the Broncos high octane offense will have the Raiders reeling. Oakland's highlight will be when Sea-Bas kicks a record 65-yard field goal.


   Is the promotional give away for this game oxygen tanks?
   After facing a Mike Vick wannabe, the Broncos face the real thing. This ought to be fun. This game is going to have so many plays Shakespeare would be jealous.  They better have a lot of oxygen tanks on the sidelines. Hell, give them to the announcers too because they will be breathless trying to keep up. Halftime for this game may need to be 10 minutes longer than normal to allow the teams to catch their breath. The Detroit Pistons and Denver Nuggets played a game in Denver nearly 30 years ago where the final score was 186-184. This will be close.

BRONCOS 45  EAGLES 31  (3-1)

  The last time the Broncos played the Cowboys, Kyle Orton threw touchdown passes for Denver and the Broncos won 17-10. Champ Bailey broke up four passes including one in the end zone late in the game to preserve the victory. If Kyle Orton throws two TDs for Denver in this game, it means Tony Romo is hurt and Champ Bailey did more than break up a pass, he took one or two to the house. It's more likely Orton will be holding his clipboard on the sidelines watching Romo have a big day.
   Manning is a pedestrian 2-2 vs the Cowboys with 7 TDs and 7 picks.
   The Cowboys make things difficult on Manning with a strong pass rush and the Romocoaster has an up week.

BRONCOS 14  COWBOYS 20  (3-2)

   In the wake of the Broncos playoff loss to the Ravens, fans and media alike debated if it was worse than the '96-'97 loss to the Jaguars. I'm not sure if 16 years from now when the Broncos and Ravens play I'll hope the Broncos annihilate them beyond recognition, but I still feel that way when Denver plays Jacksonville.
   Did you know the Jags have beaten Denver three straight? Me neither until I looked it up.
   Peyton brings back memories of the '97-'98 playoff game and Welker is huge with 10+ receptions.

BRONCOS  42  JAGUARS 17 (4-2) 

    Holy Schnikes, talk about your story lines. Von Miller returning to the Broncos will hardly be a rumor compared to the Peyton Manning Returns to Indy drama. Poor Andrew Luck is going to be answering questions about it all week. Peyton will be answering questions about it all week. Jim Irsay will be drunk tweeting about it all week. This game is going to be H-U-G-E. Last years Cowboys-Redskins game in week 17 did a 17.0 rating, the highest ever on NBC for a regular season game.  This one will be close to that, probably around a 16.5.
   We've seen this type of moment play out before. It's the Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned Unless it's the Face of a Franchise Playing Against the Team That Let Him Go game. (It's a long title, I know.)
Brett Favre played the Packers twice in 2009, winning both games, including a 12-point win in Green Bay when he chucked 4 TD passes.
   In 1994 Joe Montana faced the 49ers (in KC) and beat them 24-17 with two TDs.
   It works in other sports too. Tom Seaver's first start at Shea Stadium against the Mets, he struck out 11 in a 5-1 win and also hit a double.
   Roger Clemens gave the Fenway faithful (and the Red Sox brass) a big F you when he struck out 16 in 8 innings in his return to Boston. He only allowed 4 hits and a run in the victory for Toronto.
   Even an aging Michael Jordan beat the Bulls the first two times he faced them (home and away) as a 38-year old who had been out of the league for 3 years. In his return to Chicago he only had 16 points but also had 12 rebounds and a +/- of +17.
   So what does all this mean? It means Manning is going to be beyond fired up to stick it to the team that didn't believe he could still be a healthy, productive player. It means 4 TD passes and 321 yards. It means a Broncos victory.

BRONCOS 28 COLTS 21  (5-2)

   Wait, there's ANOTHER emotional match up? OK, Mike Shanahan was never exactly Mr. Cuddles, but he is the coach that lead Denver to their only two titles. His return to Denver should elicit warm memories and plenty of praise for Shanny for the Super Bowls and getting rid of Greg Robinson. When all the hugging is done the business at hand will not be hugging, but wrapping up RG3 and not letting him run wild. Von Miller should have his feet under him for this one and will be fired up to play his first home game.

BRONCOS 30  REDSKINS 19 (6-2) 


   Hey, another reunion! The Broncos face former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy who created an offense that was ranked 4th in total offense. Of course he did have help from Peyton. It's kind of like Anson Williams having "Star of Happy Days" on his resume.
  For McCoy, it's the same resume that says "I won games, and a PLAYOFF GAME, with Tim Tebow as my quarterback."It also says "Kyle Orton had a career year playing under me." That's quite a resume.
   So what can he do with Philip Rivers, a QB who needs more saving than Nelson Van Alden on Boardwalk Empire? Rivers had been 9-4 in his career against Denver before last year, which included the collapse game on MNF when they blew a 24-0 lead. The Chargers offense ranked 31st last year. Only Arizona was worse. I think McCoy will help Rivers be a better QB, just not good enough in this game.

BRONCOS 26  CHARGERS 16 (7-2) 

   Kansas City has become a popular sleeper pick this season. With an upgrade at QB and coach, the potent offensive combo of Jamal Charles and Dwayne Bowe and the likelihood that things just can't be that awful two years in a row, maybe those people are right. This game will go a long way toward telling us if the Chiefs are for real. It's also the first piece of bread in the Patriots sandwich as the Broncos play KC, NE and KC the next three weeks. Is this the dreaded look ahead loss?

BRONCOS 23 CHIEFS 13  (8-2)

   Hey! Yet another reunion!!! Even M*A*S*H didn't do this many reunion shows. So Wes Welker comes back to New England where he claims his coach was was tougher on him than HHH is on the Big Show. With some QBs you would expect Welker to be targeted many times, trying to help their man exact some revenge. Manning won't play it like that unless the game plan calls for it. Obviously every Broncos game plan will have a lot of Wes in it, but don't expect Manning to force stuff.
   In last year's game the Patriots fast-paced offense had the Broncos defense on the ropes for three quarters. Ridley riddled them for 151 yards. New England ran 89 plays and jumped to a 31-7 lead. Denver had a chance, down 31-21 and driving when McGahee fumbled (Denver's third lost fumble of the game) and New England ran it out.
   This will be an interesting chess match as both teams have last year to work from, plus their defenses practice against the uptempo offense every day. In the end, the difference will probably be the same as last year, turnovers.

PATRIOTS  34  BRONCOS 24 (8-3) 

   It's been three seasons since the Broncos have scored more than 17 points in K.C. That was when they put up 44 in 2009 behind 245 yards on the ground, lead by Correl Buckhalter's (!) 113.
   I never feel good about games in K.C. It reminds of buying clothes for my wife for Christmas. It's going to be an uncomfortable, arduous, feature an embarrassing moment or two with the likelihood that it was just an exasperating waste of time.

CHIEFS  17  BRONCOS 16  (8-4)

   Wait. I thought the Broncos bye was in week 9.

BRONCOS 38 TITANS 10 (9-4)

   By this point in the season Philip Rivers will either be back to his old form or the Chargers will have signed Philip Seymour Hoffman because he can act like a QB better than Rivers can actually play like one. Don't laugh, the man gave life to Art Howe in Moneyball, so he can pretty much do anything.
   With Antonio Gates on the down side of a great career, Denver's former hoopster turned football player, Julius Thomas, goes off with 3 TD receptions.


   Hey, it's Gary Kubiak! OK, we did this reunion last year. Kubiak is now like the uncle who always stays at the family reunion longer than everyone else. This will be a good "getting ready for the playoffs" test. It may even be an important game for seeding in the playoffs. And as we learned last year, home field advantage is so.... AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Just knock the damn ball down Rahim!!!!!! Knock the freakin' ball down!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HOUSTON 28 DENVER 20 (10-5)

   What are the odds that neither Terrelle Pryor nor Matt Flynn starts this game for Oakland? That would be a great office pool to do. Get 10 friends, do a random draw for draft order and let everyone make a pick, including Pryor and Flynn. Who would you pick? Mark Sanchez? Tim Tebow? Ken Stabler? Imagine the season long intrigue with that one!

BRONCOS 29 RAIDERS 3 (11-5) 

   The Vegas over/under on the Broncos is 11. Can I bet the push? It will be another fun, entertaining season in Denver, but it will end before the Super Bowl. The Broncos season will end in New England in the AFC title game. Wes Welker will share pleasantries with Bill Belichick after the game and then in his best Dino Ciccarelli voice say "I can't believe I shook this guy's friggen' hand. That pisses me right off."